LEWISTOWN - The Mifflin County Planning Commission in conjunction with Gannett Fleming, a consulting team, and the Planning and Development Department presented a Mifflin County comprehensive plan update at a public meeting Thursday at the Mifflin County Courthouse.
The comprehensive plan's purpose is to update Mifflin County's policy document on land use, transportation, economic development, housing, community service and resource protection. More specifically, to bring the plan update to date with more detailed plans and studies completed in the past ten years, to consider past population trends and project population needs for the next 10 to 20 years, and to update the county's Community Development Block Grant program.
This project is bring funded by the Mifflin County Board of Commissioners, Mifflin County CDBG program and SEDA-COG/PennDOT. Also with contributions from Mifflin County Industrial Development Corporation, Municipal Authority of the Borough of Lewistown, Derry Township and Lewistown Hospital.
The process to date for the plan update preparation included the 2011 quality of life survey, a project website, www.mifflincoplan.com, initial analysis chapter updates, four committee meetings, stakeholder interviews, meetings with Mifflin County Association of Elected Township Officials and news releases to The Sentinel and County Observer.
Topics covered at previous meetings and in much detail Thursday include the 2011 quality of life survey, population, housing, economy and employment, land use, community facilities and services, cultural resources, environmental resources and transportation.
The quality of life survey was sent to 2,500 Mifflin County households and 784 of the surveys were returned. Michelle A. Brummer, an associate from Gannett Fleming, said the 31.4 percent return was a "healthy" return rate. Brummer said 87 percent of survey responders said that Mifflin County is a desirable place to live and only 77 percent are employed in Mifflin County.
Priorities for the plan update that were taken from the survey were to increase employment opportunities; economic development, i.e. helping local business expand. Housing conditions and availability, especially for seniors, and transportation maintenance and improvement are priorities. Also the satisfaction rating for the county, municipal and quasi-public services are trending in positive directions.
According to the 2010 census, the resident population of Mifflin County is 46,682, an increase of 1.1 percent from the 2000 Census. The median age is 42.5 years old, the unemployment rate from 2011 was 7.9 percent and the estimated poverty rate is 13.9 percent.
There is slow growth in the number of housing units in Mifflin County and there are few modern homes. The vacancy rate among year-round housing units is growing, especially in Lewistown. According to the 2010 census, there are 21,537 housing units in Mifflin County, which is up 3.8 percent from 2000. Important issues such as affordable units, housing for seniors and vacancy are being discussed further by the Mifflin County Planning Commission, Planning and Development Department and Gannett Fleming.
Regarding Mifflin County's economic performance, the county outperformed the state in six industry sectors from 2006 to 2010: agriculture; forestry; fishing and hunting; manufacturing; finance and insurance; administration and support; waste management and remediation; accommodation and food services; and other services excluding public administration.
Of those employed in Mifflin County, 60 percent also reside in Mifflin County. Exporting is a strength of Mifflin County. The top three manufacturing subsectors in Mifflin County are: fabricated metal products, plastics and rubber products; and wood products.
Transportation improvements, expanded water and sewer service, getting new businesses into the industrial park with shovel-ready sites, cooperation and collaboration within the county and potentially with other counties, assistance or funding for entrepreneurs and existing business, and an improved image or brand of the county were all discussed as ways for the county to possibly sustain or improve economically.
Of Mifflin County's 265,818 total acres, only 23,706 acres are developed, approximately 10 percent.
More than half of the terrain (51 percent) in Mifflin County is considered steep slopes which is a factor in why so much of Mifflin County is considered open space. Building on steep slopes is challenging and there is a risk of erosion and sedimentation.
Trends and issues with residential development are larger development concentration along the U.S. 322 corridor and smaller more dispersed development elsewhere, vacant commercial land and buildings, age and complexity of zoning ordinances and non-conforming lots, and commercial interest in energy production uses, for example, windfarms.
An issue with the community facilities and services is declining school enrollments. On average, Mifflin County School District loses 87 students per year. Also, declining levels of post-secondary schooling among Mifflin County School District graduates.
Brian T. Funkhouser, a Transportation Planner with Gannett Fleming, spoke about transportation around Mifflin County. Among transportation concerns discussed were the safety of the Amish and Plain traveling by horse and carriage, increasing crashes in Mifflin County and the increasing liquid fuels allocations of growing municipalities. A trend of increasing use of public transportation, especially among people with disabilities was also discussed.
There was a special study done with the Comprehensive Plan. The study found that the parking capacity in downtown Lewistown is adequate except for the parking lot behind the Penn State and South Hills Business Center. A roadway safety audit was done on U.S. 522 and repeated substandard conditions along U.S. 522 N, and U.S. 22 W/522 S were found.
After an intersection analysis it was found that the intersections of Walnut and Valley streets, Charles and Dorcas streets, and state Route 655 and Three Cent Lane were found to operate at an acceptable level of services. The intersection at Mill Street and Electric Avenue had two suggested alternatives to create better traffic options.
The next steps for the Mifflin County Comprehensive Plan will be to update goals, objectives and action plans. The next public meeting will be in late spring 2013.